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[Family drama] Traded for freedom


Assassination

By suk

My grandmother’s story takes place at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China and my great-grandfather worked as an accountant for a Kuomintang government office. The details are not entirely clear, but when the Communist Party rose to power, every person who had any association with the Kuomintang was imprisoned, if not immediately killed.

My great-grandfather’s connection with the Republic was not very strong, but he was still thrown into prison indefinitely. He was the only provider for his family as my great-grandmother stayed home and took care of their baby son and two daughters, including my grandmother, which was the standard for women of the time. With my great-grandfather in prison, my great-grandmother became desperate. Fearful of falling into poverty during a period of violent political turmoil and losing everything, she searched for a way to get her husband out of prison. She was willing to give anything.


Park Yeol

Coincidentally, their neighbor had connections with the prison my great-grandfather was being held in. At that time, the justice system was virtually nonexistent, and often a personal connections with prison authorities was the only hope for families. However, releasing a prisoner was still very risky for everyone involved. But my great-grandmother was determined. She began pleading with this neighbor, offering money and valuable items.

Ultimately, the neighbor requested something of my great-grandmother: one of her children. The neighbor and his wife did not have any kids and were very lonely. They were envious that my great-grandmother had given birth to three.

Initially, my great-grandmother refused, but the neighbor grew more adamant over time. At this point, my great-grandfather had been in prison for several months and my great-grandmother was truly running out of options. She and her children were starving and her baby son had fallen ill.

One night, on the brink of being forced onto the streets, my great-grandmother looked upon her sleeping children. Her eldest daughter was already seven years old and doing well in school. My great-grandmother realized giving her away would cause too much emotional damage. And she couldn’t possibly give away her only son, her son was her treasure, her gift from the heavens. Her gaze slowly landed on my grandmother, who was only three years old at the time. She was the middle child and often overlooked in the family. She was also the second daughter, a child who my great-grandmother had hoped would be a son. My great-grandmother made her decision.


Park Yeol

The next day, my great-grandmother took my grandmother’s hand and brought her to their neighbor. I don’t know the emotional details of this trade-off, but shortly after, my great-grandfather was finally released and returned home. Their neighbor and his wife, however, had already taken off to another city with my grandmother. For some reason, my great-grandparents never went to go look for my grandmother. Maybe they were too busy to travel so far or maybe they were just cold-hearted. I don’t believe my grandmother was ever officially adopted, but China was so chaotic at the time, that probably did not matter much. My grandmother never saw her birth family again.

And this is where the story, as told by my grandmother, ends. She never related how her adoptive parents treated her and they passed away before my mother had the chance to meet them.

I can only hope that her childhood was a relatively peaceful one – as peaceful as it could be in the midst of the Communist era. My grandmother’s story was all too common during this time. When families became desperate, daughters were often treated as property. I am grateful that my grandmother was “adopted” before she could be sold off. Times have drastically changed since then, especially for me as an only child of immigrants in America. My parents came here to give us a better life and I have all the opportunities to learn and experience that I could ever hope for. I still video call my grandmother every Sunday. She’s a best friend to me and I am eternally grateful to her for persevering so that I could live a life of freedom.


Assassination

 
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Oh my goodness, this is an incredible story @sukstan! My eyes jumped out of their sockets when the neighbours asked for a child in exchange for their help.

I recently finished ARSENAL MILITARY ACADEMY, much more lighthearted than your story, but also showing that personal contacts were the only way to get someone out of prison in those days. This is still the case in some countries. 😣

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For sure, I also gasped at the part about the neighbors asking for a child! Just amazing how harsh things were.

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Thank you so much! I first heard this story when I was really young, but as I got older I realized exactly how dramatic and heartbreaking it really is. It also made me realize how important a fair justice system is. Sadly, being thrown in prison because of political association or ethnicity is still way too common.

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Oh my gosh, sukkie! What a tale. I have tears in my eyes from your lovely essay and am filled with wonder about your grandmother's life. Can you ask her how she was treated and raised or is that just not done? I so hope they treated her like a special gift and hernchildhood was peaceful, as peaceful as it could be in those tumultuous times. Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing it. ♥️

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Thank you bbstle <3 I'm glad you enjoyed it!

My grandmother doesn't really like talking about herself in general, let alone her past. I've always wanted to ask her, but I'm afraid it'll make things awkward. I think she doesn't want to tell me everything in order to "shield" me, her granddaughter who's living an entirely different life, from the past. But if it comes up, I'll definitely try asking her and I'll keep you updated!

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I can't begin to imagine how traumatic and sad it was for your grandmother when she realised the full gravity of her situation. She is very strong to have survived through all these. I too prayed that she have had a peaceful and good childhood. Thanks for sharing this personal story.

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You'll have to wait for a good moment to have her talking. My grandfather'd never told me about his painful past, the other one died when I was 1 but he's never talked about his war times and childhood to his children and his wife either. She'd thought he had another children with someone else, because he used to disappear once a year for two weeks with lots of presents. She followed him once when their children were old enough and she partially learned the missing part of the story. When I was working with old people they used to tell me lot of things, we were crying sometimes together but it was easier for them because I'm a foreigner.

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Oh gosh! It is unfortunate that such things do continue to happen in many parts of the world even now. So not all blame lies on the time bit the circumstances one is put in. I really hope your grandmother had a good time, as much as it could be knowing full well what had happened to her. Did she remember everything herself or was told by her adoptive parents?

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I'm not entirely sure how she knows this story because she was still so young at the time. Maybe she remembers a little and the rest was told by her adoptive parents? My mom says she just remembers my grandmother telling her when they attended the funeral. It seems like my grandmother never took her children to visit her adoptive parents until they died. Does that say something?

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For sure it says a lot. I hope you will meet her in person for longer that you could ask her this. Tell her it's important to you and your mom doesn't need to know. You could write a book about it with other people who have this in common. It would be a nice book if there would be collected stories from different nations, that others can see that all people over the world are the same when in difficult times.

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Some people's ability to remember develops before others. When I first married I shared with my husband things I remember when I was three. He was shocked. He couldn't remember back that far. I remember my parents' marriage (yes. I was 3.) I remember vacationing in San Francisco, California, USA and my Uncle teasing me for spilling milk on the table. ("How would you feel if someone spilled milk on you?" I was uncomfortable around him for years. As a child, I thought if I remember this, surely he does too.) I remember standing on a pew in church, facing the couple behind me and making faces while they made "how cute that she doesn't understand what she's doing" type noises and I thought, "I understand everything." It made me decide that I wouldn't treat little children like they weren't sentient. (Although I didn't use that word. But later, I realized I had been "sentient" long before adults thought I was.

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@sukstan,
Thank you so much for sharing your family's inspiring saga. My heart goes out to your great-grandmother for having to resort to such lengths to get her husband out of jail. For all anyone knows, being given away to childless neighbors who moved to another city may well have saved your grandmother's life in those tumultuous times. I can only imagine what it must have been like for her when her own daughter emigrated to America with her family.

Your grandmother puts the lie to all the platitudes that young children do not remember their early life experiences. I can only hope that her life with her adoptive parents was at least as happy as her parting with her birth family was sad.

How wonderful that you are able to "video visit" with grandma every week. I'm old enough to have had to rely on airmail letters when studying overseas because international phone calls were prohibitively expensive. The miracle of internet telecommunications truly is miraculous.

Thank you again for relating your family drama. ;-)

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Whoa! That’s crazy. The audacity. The choice. The ramifications.

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Her story reminds me of an arc in The Good Earth. I wonder if her siblings ever wonder about her whereabouts... it must've been a tough decision for her mother. And I can't imagine what the father felt after coming home only to find out the cost of his freedom.

You sound like a sweet grandkid. Your grandma went through a lot but she probably thinks of you as a bright spot in her difficult life. :')

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@mary,
I, too, am reminded of Pearl S. Buck's classic historical novel The Good Earth, set in the early 20th Century, and its vivid depiction of Chinese domestic life among the lower classes, including female infanticide during a famine. I well recall the collections at my parochial school in the early 60s that were taken up to "buy" Chinese babies and care for them in orphanages. The novel was required reading in high school. I came to realize the mission babies were probably unwanted daughters.

Pearl S. Buck was the daughter of American missionaries. She lived most of her first 17 years in China, and learned Chinese as her first language. In addition to being homeschooled in American subjects by her mother, she had a Chinese tutor for reading, writing, and Confucian studies. The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 for it and the biographies of her parents (1936).
http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1900_earth.htm

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I still remember documentaries in our TV about one child policy in Chine and female infanticide in late 80's, there were scenes from orphanages where majority of children were girls and shot of the dead infant on the curb, that haunted me for years (I was child myself when I watched it).

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My family's drama is somewhat different. When the family servant got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl, my grandmother forced my father to adopt the child since he was the only one at that time who could because he had a job (but was still single). The girl grew up in my grandmother's care and when my father got married, we were raised to think of her as an 'aunt' though we used her first name only to call her and not with a title like Aunt. Years after, my actual aunt became furious with the girl (already grown up) since she was saying that when my grandma dies, she would take the antique cabinets. That's how I learned about her birth secret - thru the rantings of my aunt. After the death of my uncles, she and my family became estranged.

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She was raised as a daughter or a long life servant. It's all the time strange to me when there are stories in family when one of the members is not blood related.

My mom's aunt adopted a girl, raised her like a princess, she was really loved by her parents and we were all the time reminded that she was adopted by others. She is my cousin and that's it for me. When she had troubles with her husband everybody was like that's because she is adopted. Hell no! Everybody has troubles but someone is better in cleaning before his threshold. I'll need to contact her when I'll come home next time.

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Thank you for sharing your family story ! I can't image how your great-grandparents and grandmothermust have felt , nor how it must have been traumatizing for them.

I'm envious of your relationship with your grandmother. Enjoy these precious moments to the fullest with her!

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Wow, what a story. Thanks for sharing @sukstan

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@sukstan, thank you for sharing this incredible family story. Tumultuous times uncovers the best and the worst in people.

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Thank you SO much for sharing. I believe we all need to see some of the alternatives people in the past (and also, people now) live through, to appreciate the blessings we have in our lives.

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